The Starship prototype SN15 missile lands on the company’s landing pad in Boca Chica, Texas on May 5, 2020.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched and landed the latest prototype of his Starship rocket on Wednesday in the fifth test flight at high altitude of the system.
The spaceship’s prototype rocket, serial number 15 or SN15, flew up to 10 kilometers, or approximately 33,000 feet.
“Spaceship is nominally landing!” Musk tweeted after landing. Nominal is a space industry term used to denote when things go according to plan.
SN15 was the first Starship prototype that was not destroyed after a test flight at high altitude. While a small fire broke out at the base of the rocket after landing, the fire appeared to be contained a few minutes later.
The company is developing Starship to bring cargo and people on missions to the moon and Mars.
Earlier this month, NASA placed an almost $ 3 billion contract with SpaceX to build a lunar variant of Starship to bring astronauts to the surface of the moon for the agency’s Artemis missions. While Musk’s company continued to advance Starship development, NASA stopped SpaceX work on the HLS program after Jeff Bezos ‘Blue Origin and Leidos’ subsidiary Dynetics each filed protests against NASA’s procurement.
The SN15 flight was similar to what SpaceX has conducted over the past six months with the test flights of the prototypes SN8, SN9, SN10 and SN11. While each of the previous missiles was successfully launched and several development goals were achieved, all four prototypes were explosively destroyed – SN8 and SN9 on impact during the landing attempts, SN10 a few minutes after landing and SN11 just before the landing attempt.
The Starship prototypes are about 150 feet tall, or about the size of a 15-story building, and are each powered by three Raptor rocket engines.
It’s made of stainless steel and is the early version of the rocket that Musk unveiled in 2019.
The Starship prototype SN15 rocket is on the company’s launch pad in Boca Chica, Texas.
SpaceX noted in a statement on its website that the SN15 has “vehicle enhancements in terms of structure, avionics and software” compared to previous Starship prototypes.
“Specifically, a new, improved avionics suite, an updated fuel architecture in the tail skirt, and a new design and configuration for Raptor engines,” said SpaceX.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has an inspector at the SpaceX facilities to monitor the test flights, conducted a “breakdown” investigation of the SN11 flight.
Last week, the FAA announced the approval of the next three Starship launches – SN15, SN16, and SN16 – and said it would “verify that SpaceX has implemented corrective actions resulting from the SN11 breakdown investigation”.
The FAA approved multiple launches “because SpaceX makes few changes to the launcher and relies on the FAA-approved method to calculate the risk to the public.”